Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
born 1 November 1973 is an Indian actress and the winner of the Miss World 1994 pageant. Through her successful acting career, she has established herself as one of the most popular and influential celebrities in India. Rai has received numerous accolades, including two Filmfare Awards, and was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2009 and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Government of France in 2012. She has often been cited in the media as “the most beautiful woman in the world”.
While in college, Rai did a few modelling jobs. Following appearances in several television commercials, she entered the Miss India pageant, in which she placed second. She was then crowned Miss World 1994, after which she began receiving offers to act in film. She made her acting debut in Mani Ratnam’s 1997 Tamil film Iruvar and had her first Hindi film release in Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya that same year. Her first commercial success was the Tamil romantic drama Jeans (1998), which was the most expensive film to be made in Indian cinema at the time. She achieved wider success and won two Best Actress awards at Filmfare for her performances in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Devdas (2002).
Rai garnered critical appreciation for portraying a passionate artist in the Tamil romance Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000), Tagore’s heroine, Binodini, in the Bengali film Chokher Bali (2003), a depressed woman in the drama Raincoat (2004), Kiranjit Ahluwalia in the British drama film Provoked (2006), and a nurse in the drama Guzaarish (2010). Rai’s greatest commercial successes have been the romance Mohabbatein (2000), the adventure film Dhoom 2 (2006), the historical romance Jodhaa Akbar (2008), the science fiction film Enthiran (2010), and the romantic drama Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016).
Rai married actor Abhishek Bachchan in 2007; the couple have one daughter. Her off-screen roles include duties as a brand ambassador for several charity organisations and campaigns. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS). In 2003, she was the first Indian actress to be a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival
Early life and modelling career
Rai was born on 1 November 1973 into a Tulu speaking Bunt family in Mangaluru, Karnataka.Her father, Krishnaraj, who died on 18 March 2017, was an Army biologist, while her mother, Vrinda, is a homemaker. She has one elder brother, Aditya Rai, who is an engineer in the merchant navy. Rai’s movie Dil Ka Rishta (2003) was co-produced by her brother and co-written by her mother. The family moved to Mumbai, where Rai attended the Arya Vidya Mandir High School. Rai did her intermediate schooling at Jai Hind College for a year,and then joined DG Ruparel College in Matunga, securing 90 percent in the HSC exams.
She trained in classical dance and music for five years during her teens. Her favourite subject was zoology, so she initially considered a career in medicine.Then with plans to become an architect, she enrolled at Rachana Sansad Academy of Architecture, but later gave up her education to pursue a career in modelling.
In 1991, Rai won an international supermodel contest (organised by Ford) and was eventually featured in the American edition of Vogue. In 1993, Rai gained huge public recognition for her appearance in a Pepsi commercial with actors Aamir Khan and Mahima Chaudhry. The single line – “Hi, I’m Sanjana,” of her dialogue in the commercial made her instantly famous. In the 1994 Miss India pageant, she won second place, behind Sushmita Sen, and was crowned Miss India World, also winning five other sub-titles, “Miss Catwalk”, “Miss Miraculous”, “Miss Photogenic”, “Miss Perfect Ten” and “Miss Popular”. With Sen representing India at the Miss Universe pageant, Rai’s duties as the first runner-up included representing India in the rival Miss World Pageant, held that year in Sun City, South Africa. She went on to win the crownwhere she also won the “Miss Photogenic” award and Miss World Continental Queen of Beauty − Asia and Oceania. After winning the pageant, Rai spoke of her dream for peace for this world, and her desire to be an ambassador of peace during her one-year reign in London.Rai continued to pursue a career as a model until she became an actress.
Early work and rise to prominence (1997–2001)
Rai made her acting debut in 1997 with Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Iruvar, a semi-biographical political drama, featuring Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Tabu and Revathi. The film was a critical success and among other awards, won the Best Film award at the Belgrade International Film Festival.Rai featured as Pushpavalli and Kalpana – dual roles; the latter was a fictionalised portrayal of politician and former actress Jayalalithaa.Her dialogue in the film was dubbed by Tamil actress Rohini. That same year, she was cast as Ashi, a naive teenager in her first Bollywood film – Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, a romantic comedy opposite Bobby Deol. Both Iruvar and Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya were commercial failures and reviewers were critical of Rai’s acting ability in both the films. However, for the latter, she won a Screen Award for Best Female Debut.
In the 1998 big-budget Tamil romantic drama Jeans directed by S. Shankar, Rai appeared alongside Prashanth and Nassar. She played Madhumita, a young woman who accompanies her ailing grandmother to the United States to seek medical attention. A commercial success, the film earned Rai praise for her acting and dancing skills. Unlike in Iruvar, Rai practised and dubbed for her own lines in the film. Jeans was later submitted as India’s official entry to the Academy Awards for 1998. Her first role in 1999 was in the melodrama Aa Ab Laut Chalen, directed by Rishi Kapoor. The film was a critical failure and had a below average performance at the box office. Rai’s portrayal of Pooja Walia, a traditional Indian woman living in the United States, met with negative reviews; Rediff.com published, “Aishwarya Rai sports a plastic smile and never gets a scene where she can portray any depth. All she does is cry and smile and look pretty”.
In 1999, Rai starred in the romantic drama Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam which became a significant turning point in her career. The film, an adaptation of Maitreyi Devi’s Bengali novel Na Hanyate, was directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and co-starred Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan. She played the main protagonist Nandini, a Gujarati woman who is forced into wedlock (with Devgan’s character) despite being in love with another man (played by Khan). Bhansali cast Rai after he met her at the screening of a film and was impressed with her eyes.TheMovieReport.com praised Rai’s performance over her co-actors and noted, “Rai, in a luminous, award-winning performance (largely considered her big dramatic breakthrough—and justifiably so), fills in the conflicted emotional shades that Khan fails to bring with his one-dimensional presence”.Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam emerged as a major commercial success and won Rai a Filmfare Award for Best Actress.
Rai next took the leading role of Mansi, an aspiring singer, in Subhash Ghai’s musical Taal; alongside Akshay Khanna, Anil Kapoor, Amrish Puri and Alok Nath. A reviewer for Rediff praised her acting and dancing prowess in it and wrote that “Taal will again enhance her reputation as an actress while in no way detracting from her image as a traffic-stopper”. A moderate domestic success, Taal was notable for being the first Indian film to feature in the top twenty listing at the American box office. Rai received a second Best Actress nomination that year at the Filmfare Awards ceremony.
In 2000, Rai starred in Kandukondain Kandukondain, a Tamil language adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility. Directed by Rajiv Menon, the film also starred Mammooty, Tabu and Ajith Kumar in prominent roles. Rai was cast as Meenakshi (based on the character of Marianne Dashwood), the younger sister of Tabu’s character.The film was a critical and commercial success and earned Rai positive comments from critics; a review carried by The Indian Express summarised, “Attacking her role with just the perfect dollop of innocence, Aishwarya does full justice to her part, and matches up perfectly to Tabu.”
Rai next starred alongside Shah Rukh Khan and Chandrachur Singh in the action drama Josh. She portrayed Shirley Dias, the twin sister of Khan’s character who falls in love with his arch enemy’s brother (played by Singh). The casting of Rai as Khan’s sister was considered an unusual pairing at the time; director Mansoor Khan, however, described it as “perfect”. Despite earning mixed reviews from film critics, Josh emerged as a commercial success. Satish Kaushik’s social drama Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai was Rai’s next release; she played a rape victim in the film. Co-starring Anil Kapoor and Sonali Bendre, the film was well received by critics and did well at the box office. Film critic Sukanya Verma praised Rai’s decision to star in the film and added that she “conveys the turmoil and pain of a rape victim well. But it is her transition from an emotional wreck trying to gather the broken pieces of her life back together that is amazing.”Rai eventually earned a third Best Actress nomination at Filmfare.
Following a leading role in the box-office flop Dhai Akshar Prem Ke, Rai took on a supporting role in Aditya Chopra’s ensemble romance Mohabbatein. Rai’s role was that of Megha Shankar, the daughter of Amitabh Bachchan’s character who commits suicide after realising that her father will not accept her romance with one of his students (played by Shah Rukh Khan). Despite earning mixed reviews from film critics, Mohabbatein emerged as the second highest-grossing film of the year and earned Rai a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination.The following year, she starred alongside Govinda and Jackie Shroff in the romantic comedy Albela. Upon release, both the film and her performance received mostly negative reviews; Taran Adarsh of Bollywood Hungama criticised the film and mentioned Rai as “plastic in some scenes”.
Devdas and international recognition (2002–2007)
After featuring in David Dhawan’s slapstick comedy film Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Rai appeared alongside Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s love-saga Devdas, an adaptation of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel of the same name.She played the role of Paro (Parvati), the love interest of the protagonist (played by Khan). The film was screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and was featured by Time in their listing of the “10 best films of the millennium”.The film emerged as a major international success with revenues of over ₹840 million (US$12 million).Alan Morrison, writing for Empire, praised the performances of the three leads and wrote, “Aishwarya Rai proves she has the acting talent to back up her flawless looks”. Devdas was chosen as India’s official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and received a nomination at the BAFTA Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. In India, the film won 10 Filmfare Awards, including a second Best Actress award for Rai.
In 2003, Rai featured in two romantic dramas of Bollywood, her brother’s production début Dil Ka Rishta, alongside Arjun Rampal, and Rohan Sippy’s Kuch Na Kaho, alongside Abhishek Bachchan. Neither of these films fared well critically or commercially. She was later noted for her starring role in Rituparno Ghosh’s independent Bengali film Chokher Bali, an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s novel of the same name. She portrayed the character of Binodini, an emotionally manipulative widow, struggling with her sexual desires in early-20th century Bengal.The film was a major critical success and Rai earned positive notice for her performance; Derek Elley of Variety noted, “Rai dominates the film with her delicately sensual presence and physical grace”. Commercially, the film was a sleeper hit.
After the success of Chokher Bali, Rai returned to mainstream Hindi film with Rajkumar Santoshi’s Khakee (2004), an action thriller featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Tusshar Kapoor. The film tells the story of five constables embroiled in a mystery surrounding a terrorist attack; Rai’s role was that of Mahalakshmi, a gun moll. While filming for Khakee, Rai was accidentally hit by a running car, which resulted in the fracture of her left foot. Upon release, the film received moderate critical and commercial success. In her next release, the romantic comedy Kyun! Ho Gaya Na…, Rai played Diya Malhotra, a university student who develops a one-sided attraction toward her friend Arjun Khanna (played by Vivek Oberoi). The film received positive to mixed comments from critics, but failed commercially.
In late 2004, Rai garnered international recognition for her starring role opposite Martin Henderson in Gurinder Chadha’s British film Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood-style adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. International film critics expressed mixed views on Rai’s performance as the Punjabi version of Elizabeth Bennet; a review carried by The New York Times mentioned her as “radiantly beautiful but inert”, while Rolling Stone noted that “she is a world-class hottie with talent to match, as she proves in her first English-speaking role”.With a worldwide gross of $24 million against a production budget of $7 million, Bride and Prejudice proved a commercial success. Rai next collaborated with director Rituparno Ghosh, for the second time, in the relationship drama Raincoat, an adaptation of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. Also featuring Ajay Devgan, Raincoat met with wide critical acclaim and among other wins, won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. The Hindu noted, “[A]s Neerja, [Rai] appears to have shed her inhibitions about looking unglamorous. What is more, she seems to have made an earnest effort to emote, using less of her body and limbs and more of her face, and eyes in particular”.She eventually received another Best Actress nomination at Filmfare.
Rai next co-starred alongside Sanjay Dutt and Zayed Khan in the 2005 adult drama Shabd, which tells the story of an author who convinces his wife to pursue an illicit relationship with a younger man in research for his next book. The film received predominantly negative reviews and proved a commercial failure. The Times of India concluded, “For the umpteenth time, Ms Rai looks drop-dead gorgeous. And that’s about it. She is like that picture postcard you get when what you were actually waiting for is a letter. It’s very beautiful to look at, but is of no use because it says nothing.”That same year, Rai took on the lead role of Tilo in Paul Mayeda Berges’s romantic fantasy film The Mistress of Spices, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The film received negative reviews from film critics and emerged as a commercial failure Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian termed Rai’s performance as “annoying” and wrote that she “wafts and simpers” through the entire film. Rai’s only successful venture of 2005 was a special appearance in Shaad Ali’s comedy Bunty Aur Babli, in which she featured in the popular item number Kajra Re.
Rai had two film releases in 2006, J P Dutta’s Umrao Jaan and Yash Raj Films’ Dhoom 2. The former, an adaptation of Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s Urdu novel Umrao Jaan Ada (1905), tells the story of a doomed courtesan from 19th-century Lucknow. Rai played the titular role, a character famously played by Rekha in the first film adaptation of the novel. Reviewers, while comparing the film to its previous adaptation, were critical of the film as well as of Rai’s performance. BBC noted, “While only Aishwarya could emulate the grace and poise of Rekha, she doesn’t quite capture the intensity of Umrao’s abiding melancholy”, adding that “Rai’s incandescent beauty and artistry [..] does indeed keep the audience watching, though not necessarily emotionally engaged.”
In the Sanjay Gadhvi-directed adventure film Dhoom 2, Rai portrayed Sunehri, a petty thief who helps the police catch an illusive criminal; the film had an ensemble cast including Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, and Uday Chopra. Though critically unsuccessful, the film was Rai’s first major commercial success since Devdas; the film was declared a blockbuster, and became the highest grossing Indian film of 2006 with gross revenues of over ₹1.11 billion (US$16 million). Rediff.com commented, “[She] is all gloss and no depth. You seldom feel any tension in her behaviour and expressions. [..] Sunehri enters the film nearly 50 minutes after its opening in a disguise. In no time, she is wearing the flimsiest of clothes. Once she opens her mouth—and she does it two minutes after appearing in the film—she spoils the image.” Nonetheless, her performance earned her a sixth Filmfare Award nomination in the Best Actress category.
In 2007, Rai played the wife of Abhishek Bachchan’s character in Mani Ratnam’s social drama Guru. A fictionalised biography of businessman Dhirubhai Ambani, Guru tells the rag to riches story of an uneducated man who builds a multinational corporation. The film met with international critical acclaim and emerged as a box-office success. Richard Corliss of Time labelled her character as an “ornament”, but Raja Sen from Rediff described it as “arguably her finest performance, visible especially when she takes over the film’s climax.” Rai received her seventh Best Actress nomination at Filmfare for her performance in the film. Rai next starred alongside Naveen Andrews and Miranda Richardson in Jag Mundhra’s independent British drama Provoked, as the real-life character of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a non-resident Indian who murders her husband after suffering years of domestic abuse. Rai earned mostly positive comments for her performance.Critic Indu Mirani from DNA wrote, “Aishwarya Rai plays the battered wife in what is undoubtedly one of her best performances to date. Rai convincingly goes through the various stages of shock, bewilderment, remorse and finally vindication”.Internationally well-received, the film emerged as a moderate commercial success in the United Kingdom. That same year, Rai starred alongside Ben Kingsley, Colin Firth and Thomas Sangster as the Indian warrior Mira in Doug Lefler’s epic film The Last Legion.